The first murder in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning ('85) involves a mentally handicapped kid (Dominick Brascia) getting brutally axed to death, and that's really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the movie's unrepentant mean streak. Notoriously hated by fans for not featuring "real Jason", and already at a disadvantage having to follow what is probably the best pure Friday the 13th picture (Joe Zito's The Final Chapter ['84]), A New Beginning actually does what any smart sequel would do in its situation: double down on the heinous violence degenerates paid to see.
Only Paramount fucked up, hiring an ex-porn director (Danny Steinmann) whose only legitimate credits up to that point were the murderous "mongoloid" movie, The Unseen ('80), and the utterly repellant Linda Blair rape/revenge romp, Savage Streets ('84). The end result is a mainstream slasher that actively hates its characters as well as its audience, transforming a simple body count picture into an uneasy exercise in unentertaining brutality that ends on a Scooby Doo "fuck you" sure to rile anyone looking for another fast and fun murder fiesta starring their favorite hockey masked maniac.
Yet that's also what marks Steinmann's movie as sort of brilliant. Death had become a commodity at Camp Crystal Lake by '85, and A New Beginning is flush with gruesome riches. An unfiltered dead teenager endeavor (with the highest tally in series history up to that point: 19), Steinmann's sequel almost plays like the Italian horror estimation of a Friday the 13th installment, where everything feels slightly familiar, but also fudged ever so slightly (just look at those blue stripes on Jason's mask, instead of the traditional red). Hell, the movie doesn't even take place at Camp Crystal Lake (or Higgins Haven, for that matter), but still manages to tie into the mythos via a prologue featuring Corey Feldman's Tommy Jarvis.
Though the young actor was only able to film a cameo due to his own production schedule (Feldman ran off to film The Goonies ['85] for Richard Donner, leaving A New Beginning's script to be re-written in his absence), the opening dream sequence then transitions us to a new Tommy (John Shepherd, going full method), who's being transported to the Pinehurst Halfway House, where he's set to continue treatment for his post-Jason Voorhees PTSD. Now a grown man (who looks nothing like Feldman, mind you), Voorhees' arch nemsis is assured that everything will be fine by the facility's director (Melanie Kinnaman) and Dr. Matt Letter (Rchard Young). Shortly thereafter, the aforementioned slow butchery takes place, just steps away from the front door, proving both of these wellness employees dead wrong.
It makes sense that Stenmann was a porn director before his narrative features, because A New Beginning barely slows to catch its breath between character intros - which include a bunch of kids at the halfway house, the local cops (Marco St. John and Richard Lineback), the Mayor of Fuck Town (Ric Mancini), and a redneck, motorcycle-riding family (headed by a screeching Carol Locatell) - as it sprints toward the murder set pieces. These death sets all play like the skin scenes in a fuck film, as road flares are shoved into mouths, shears are plunged into eyes, one dude's head is strapped to a tree until it caves in, and another unfortunate mother is speared in an outhouse. There's a leering glee his camera takes when viewing these deaths; sweaty and deranged in a way the series hadn't owned previously.
A New Beginning is arguably the last great, gore-centric slasher in the Friday the 13th franchise, as Jason Lives ('86) became knowing self-parody, and The New Blood ('88) would be chopped to pieces by the MPAA (though this fifth entry also took nine trips to the Association before earning an R-rating). This attention to grue allows Steinmann to lens each of the gnartly brutality gags like he would a cum shot, heads rolling and bursts of plasma covering characters without a care for their well being. Where the appeal of Friday the 13th in general is the indulgence of the audience's desire for bloodletting, a few of the kills get slightly uncomfortable, such as when one girl is choked while topless, before being speared with a machete from beneath the bed. It's an oddly sexual take on the funhouse murder spree formula that ups the ick factor exponentially.
Though the biker rednecks are certainly shrill and tough to take beyond small doses, A New Beginning delivers one of the series' best characters in "Reckless" Reggie (Shavar Ross) - a black Tommy Jarvis stand-in whose playful antics while investigating these mysterious deaths and disappearances keep the movie from ever feeling weighed down by its overly grim occurances. Beyond being the first person of color to be prominently featured in a Friday the 13th movie, Ross just seems like a sweet kid who got lost and stumbled onto set, screeching like a banshee when he finally sees Mr. Voorhees. But his interactions with a van dwelling big bro (Miguel A. Núñez Jr., a/k/a Spider from Return of the Living Dead ['85]), who feels like he wandered in from a lost Lamberto Bava movie, are a hilarious highlight. Once the boy jumps on that bulldozer and starts chasing after Jason, triumphant notes on Harry Manfredini's score blaring, we know who the true hero of A New Beginning really is.
Steinmann was originally hired for a two picture deal with Paramount, the first of which was supposed to be a sequel to Wes Craven's gut churning exploitation classic, Last House on the Left ('72); fitting material when you hold both directors' early histories up against one another. Tales of rampant drug use on set, plus sex scenes that lasted ten whole minutes (since cut out of the film and lost completely) have become legend when discussing A New Beginning (not to mention Steinmann's failure to ever direct another motion picture). But these elements are also what make Steinmann's sequel feel dangerous - the work of a perverted mind who probably should've never been allowed to step foot onto a studio's lot. So while it's easy to ding the movie for its numerous idiosyncracies and trashy veneer, this is also what makes it so damn special; a pile of wet, sticky horror dumped in the middle of a franchise that had already become stale four episodes in.